Woman in technology

Usually I avoid topics like women in technology because (1) it is a can of worms, and (2) I can really only speak for myself. For the most part, I’d rather be seen as a person in technology than a woman, but this weekend the twitterverse erupted with opinions about Google sponsoring female students to attend JSConf. As a woman who is often the only-woman-in-the-room, I want people to know it isn’t always easy. I was a bit shocked by the blatant failure to empathize.

On the Big Web Show, I talked about being a women in a male dominated field (min 7:12). “I was a carpenter before I got into web stuff, so you guys can’t really compete with the carpenters, no matter how unruly you get.”

That is true, but a simplification. Zeldman threw me a chance to speak openly about being a woman in technology, and out of nervousness, I punted. Perhaps I was also afraid to sound strident? Anyway, I’m going to share some of the things that have happened to me, in hopes that it helps people realize that I was lucky to be successful and a woman. I mean, just take a look at the fastest growing careers for women. We are veterinary technicians not veterinarians, dental assistants not dentists, medical assistants not doctors. We like to believe we have evolved, but the data speaks to something else. Being a home heath aide is dirty work with bad hours and heavy lifting — but it is a career women can imagine, whereas, right now, they clearly can’t imagine themselves coding. I want to understand why not…

After conducting a thorough study on the status of female researchers at MIT. The Dean said:

The heart and soul of discrimination, the last refuge of the bigot, is to say that those who are discriminated against deserve it because they are less good.
Dean Robert J. Birgeneau, Dean of Science at MIT

He says it beautifully. Discrimination now rarely takes the form of some guy saying “hey little lady, shouldn’t you let a man handle that?” It is much more subtle, but just as ugly. These days, bright, thoughtful, enlightened people assume that the absence of women in certain fields results from women being unable to compete on merit. The assumption that, if someone creates a scholarship for women, it is because otherwise, women can’t hack it.

I would argue that there are female developers who are just as good as men, if not better, but despite that, they are less likely to stay in school, stick with engineering jobs, speak at or even attend conferences, and be recognized for their contributions. The problem compounds itself as women see no role-models for how to be a woman in this field, and only the very thick-skinned manage to stay in engineering and web development.

Why is computer science a sausage fest?

I believe CS and Web Development currently select for certain masculine qualities that are largely unrelated to someone’s prowess as a coder. I believe it is these tangential code-cowboy qualities women are unable or unwilling to emulate, and not their skill or capacity for abstraction, problem solving, creative thinking, or communication — All of which actually make them better developers. In fairness, I think a lot of men would rather not live like code-cowboys, but the unspoken judgement is adapt-or-you-must-not-be-smart-enough-for-CS. The vibe is a competitive rather than collaborative, and leaves many women feeling invisible.

Affirmative action

People mistakenly assume that affirmative action is about granting minorities undeserved privileges. In it’s purist form, affirmative action is about allowing minorities natural talents to flourish by removing artificial, unfair barriers and decoupling the true skills required to succeed in a profession from the cultural baggage that builds naturally within an insular community.

If we separate the criteria that makes someone a code-cowboy from the criteria that makes them a solid developer, I think we would find that women can and do compete despite significant discrimination. Scholarships like the one Google proposes aren’t meant to give women of lower merit something they don’t deserve, they are meant to circumvent the discrimination that extremely talented women still face. If you assume that a scholarship for women exists because women are inherently inferior, rather than because they are simply underrepresented, it might be time to soul-search and ask yourself if there is a bigot inside.

I (don’t) wanna be a cowboy, baby

The code cowboy

  • Stays up all night recoding the entire code base, documents nothing, and forbids anyone to touch it because they aren’t good enough to understand his level of code.
  • Refuses meetings, chats, or any other form of communication.
  • Cares more about being perceived as the brilliant-uber-genius than he does about his team working well together.
  • Gets into silly pissing contests which boil down to “hehe, my brain is bigger than yours”.
  • Finds complex solutions to problems, thus proving his brilliance.
  • Makes a lot of mistakes due to lack of sleep, overcaffination, and ego — but thank god he is around to save the day when the bug is discovered.
  • Is fairly certain clients, PMs, designers, and really anyone he has to deal with on a daily basis is at least three standard deviations below his IQ.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when credit or rewards for accomplishments are offered.
  • Jumps to say “me, me, me!” when opportunities to attend or speak at conferences arise.

The good developer

  • Digs the fact that he is making products for people. Likes people and enjoys communicating with them and understanding how they think. Can put him or herself in other people’s shoes and reliably imagine how they might react to different parts of the UI.
  • An excellent problem solver who takes into account all aspects of a challenge when designing a solution – including human elements like maintainability and usability.
  • Shares credit with the entire team or entire internets. Recognizes that no solution evolves in a vacuum.
  • Applies consistent effort and recognizes that working in a way that promotes long term productivity will yield better results.
  • Respects the members of his team, including those who aren’t engineers.
  • Manages projects so they don’t require super human feats of sleeplessness to meet deadlines.
  • Has a life outside of work, other interests, friends, and family — they love code, but they love lots of other things too. If you don’t understand how this makes them a better developer, see item #1.
  • Amazing capacity for abstraction and creative thinking.

The Twit-storm

Women may be less likely to be a code-cowboy, but they can be amazing developers. We are not trying to give anything to anyone that doesn’t deserve it, but instead, to counteract the subtle prejudices that leave women feeling invisible, excluded, and unrecognized for their accomplishments. Now, with that in mind, let’s look at the twit-storm I found after leaving a seven hour mediation session on Saturday. I’ll put my comments inline since I was unavailable to tweet that day.

The doofus that started it all:

RT @googlestudents Google grants for female computer scientists to attend JSConf 2010 // this is disgusting.. i hope there is one for guys.

This stinks of jealousy. Why not be happy for the female students? Why rain on someone else’s parade? Something good happening to someone else seems to disgust fringley. Frankly, it comes off as childish.

Moving on… this is when the storm began to brew.

hProof that no good deed goes unstoned http://j.mp/c37Dev what a d-bag #jsconf

Voodootikigod has the longest twitter name in the universe, and he makes a good point, we should remember that Google has good intentions and perhaps not be quite so disgusted. Fringley, I’m talking to you.

Special treatment for women with no merit?

@voodootikigod maybe they think that giving special treatmeant to someone based on sex, color, age, ect instead of merit/randomness is wrong

Jdalton makes a good point. No one wants to feel like they got where they are because of what is in their pants. On the other hand, he assumes those women didn’t deserve to be sent to JSConf. Why should he assume that? In fact, the website says quite the opposite, the women must “have a strong academic background with demonstrated leadership ability.”

I resent the notion that women are inferior and that is why they are getting grants. Google is correcting for women being less likely to stand up and say “me, me, me!”, not for their technical skills or development prowess.

Thinking that I got where I am because I’m a woman and got special treatment (rather than on my own merit) is a painful and insidious form of discrimination. You have to be thick skinned to make it in a field where this kind of thing happens frequently. YES. It happens frequently.

What I’m trying to say is that women face a special challenge in tech because their male counterparts, when feeling jealous, will tend to pin female geek’s success on their gender. We face another problem, when we begin to wonder ourselves, and doubt our own abilities. This is the last refuge of the bigot indeed.

How can we attract more women to the field?

@jdalton would love to hear a better way to increase diversity so conversely the CS profession is not dominated by a single gender?

Yay! I like what voodootikigod says here. I saw Maria Klawe speak at Yahoo! about “Gender, Lies and Video Games: the Truth about Females and Computing”. She said that CS is the only science where the participation of women is getting worse not better. We have a problem. We’re geeks (supposed to be good at problem solving). So let’s figure it out!

I think we should look at:

  • Video games are largely made by and for men. We need to be willing to rethink the genre completely, bust things wide open to make video games appeal more to girls.
  • CS education works best for people who already know how to code before they begin. CS teaches the theory behind a practice in which they assume you already have some skill. Women are less likely to already know, because they don’t play video games as much. In addition, code-cowboys among their classmates are likely to judge them harshly for being a beginner. Are psychology majors expected to already know how to psychoanalyze patients before their first semester?
  • CS education also focuses a lot of effort on puzzles and very abstract concepts when practical applications where you can see the why and how might work better for women (and a hell of a lot of men). I like yummy algorithms, but we could make CS education more accessible by putting them in context.
  • Women are less likely to jump up and say “me! me! me!” They are far more likely to wait to be asked to participate. We don’t need women to be different than they are, we just need to invite them in a way that works. Hell, I spent 8 years coding CSS before I ever spoke about it to anyone. The first time I spoke at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.
  • Women don’t have female role models. Now, I don’t mean that we need to have deep tear-filled conversations about the perils-of-being-women-in-technology. I would like to talk to geek women about geeky stuff, not about being a woman.
  • At Velocity Conference this year, they had a girl-geek lunch. It was awesome! Just a note, they also had tons of women speakers and lots of female attendees. For a deep-geek conference, I was very impressed. Actively seeking female speakers does not mean accepting lower caliber. It means accepting that women might not submit proposals, but they might agree to speak if you ask them nicely. They might not be *famous*, but they may well be amazing innovators, skilled at what they do.
  • Could we do something like MIT did? They commisioned a giant study, measured everything, and found that women were in fact being discriminated against. Their offices were smaller and had fewer windows, their pensions unpaid, they had unequal access to MIT resources. The study painted a grim picture, but then, with true MIT efficiency, they then set out to correct it. Well worth a read, especially if you think we are all just being sensitive. For the record, the ones that stay in the field are absolutely *not* being sensitive. ;)
  • Recognize the need for work-life balance. Most women still have primary responsibility for children and home. Women need to be equals at home first, but perhaps companies can make it easier for them to get access to awesome childcare and flex time.
  • We need affirmative action to correct the problem. However, other developers need to recognize that the benefits of affirmative action go to women of merit. Not just people who happen to have a vagina.

Problem? What problem?

@voodootikigod as long as there are no barriers for them, and I can't think of one, I don't see a problem.

Um, dude, if your site was loading in 18 seconds but you couldn’t think of any reason for it, would you decide you didn’t have a performance problem?

My experiences with sexism

I don’t usually share this stuff, because I’m not thinking about it most of the time, but these things happened to me:

  • I had a manager tell me I should stop writing code and focus on powerpoint and management, areas he found to be more in line with my talents. Was it because I’m a woman? I don’t know, but it does make me wonder how many women get pushed into management too soon, before they’ve had a chance to prove their technical chops.
  • At one company, I had to change desks because people kept asking to schedule appointments with a VP who sat nearby. Even after changing, they would walk past two guys to ask me. Someone suggested hanging a sign, “I’m not a secretary.” I was in a new job and I just wanted to fit in and code cool stuff not hang signs announcing things. There were only three women out of hundreds of engineers on my floor.
  • A guy whose opinions I usually trust said to me that he believes women’s brains are fundamentally different and that we aren’t wired to understand code. He then said I’m an exception because I’m smart, but I’m still doing something which is against my nature.
  • I once had someone tell me:

    That guy only wants to work with you because he wants to sleep with you. None of your ideas are that interesting, I’m just saying, don’t get mad, it is the only possible explanation.

    Ow. I might never get over that one. It still stings a year later. I don’t want special privileges, but on the other hand, it is easy to see how I’m facing a special kind of discrimination that probably wouldn’t happen to a man. No one is going to assume that a man is on stage because he looks good in a skirt.

    Did the guy want to sleep with me? Maybe, we’re human and those sorts of things can come up. It isn’t a big deal. What bothers me is the notion that if he wants to sleep with me, he is completely incapable of evaluating the merit of my ideas. Thus, even if I am granted the privilege of working with him, it says nothing about my skill, intelligence, or capacity for original thought. It is all about my sexuality.

  • All the ridiculous, but potent, self-doubt that goes along with being a woman-in-tech. I really am my own worst enemy. Maria Klawe calls it “impostor syndrome”.
  • A client asked to have a male coworker on a call with me, though he was several years my junior.
  • I was asked to speak at a conference. A guy whose talk was rejected said “you’re so famous, I wish I was a hot girl.”

Where have all the women gone?

@jdalton having to like dick jokes, having no peers, having ppl make sexist jokes & grope you .. definitely not barriers, nope.

I’m so sorry that rmurphey went through these things, and I’m very glad she stayed in the field because we are all better for it.

Maria Klawe also said that even the best women in a CS program are far more likely to drop out than the worst guys. When asked how they think they compare, these women consistently rank themselves far below their actual skill level. This means women aren’t good at judging their actual skill level or comparing themselves to others. They need mentors and a leg up, to help them do it. Women are also less likely to pester their boss until she finally relents to send them to a conference. Again, we need to actively invite talented women.

When Harvey Mudd changed their CS program admission criteria to accept a broader range of people, and stop selecting for the socially-challenged-uber-nerd, they found that everyone’s grades improved. It benefits everyone to have a diverse group of people in our field.

@rmurphey last time I checked right click view source didn't ask your gender.

Jdalton, you had made some good points, but at this point I’m less impressed. Are you really claiming that gender discrimination doesn’t happen? What we have here is a complete failure to empathize.

@jdalton and your point is? my point is: attending & fully enjoying a conf as a woman is weird & i don’t blame some for needing incentive.

And this is part of why it is great to meet Rebecca and other girl geeks. It is tiring to feel weird and stand out all the time. Ultimately, what we want is to stand out for the quality of our work. In order to do that, we need to eliminate some of the obvious gender inequities and find ways to rebalance the flow of new engineers. I believe this will make our products better, our work life better, and our conferences better. We have to be willing to really change things to make CS fit women better… it shouldn’t only be the women we are trying to change.

.@rmurphey women like you @stubbornella & @amyhoy are well respected in the dev community. is respect not enough for acceptance?

Getify, it sure helps, but it is only one small piece of a larger puzzle.

205 thoughts on “Woman in technology”

  1. Gender equality is where society will eventually find itself, but it is still far from where we are today. Discrimination is incredibly rampant when you know what to look for—much of it is fairly harmless on a case-by-case basis, but the cumulative amount of it weighs down on society quite heavily, still. Fortunately for us, the tech sector is relatively progressive, and I think you, Nicole, can attest to the differences in Tech versus, say, the carpenters world.

    But we shouldn’t let that fact delude ourselves into thinking that Tech is free from gender discrimination. It’s something I’m reminded of regularly when I hear guys talking about widely known geek girls like Justine Ezarik or Veronica Belmont. Girls I know personally, and whom I greatly respect—not for their “pretty smiles” or the presence of female body parts, but because I know they work hard, are talented and dedicated, and do great things.

    Prettiness is a nice bonus, I guess, but the way I hear some guys talk about them you’d think that these girls’ looks was all they had going for them. So terribly untrue, and it speaks volumes about the emotions those guys are dealing with (or rather, are failing to deal with). Meanwhile, it’s something that women have to counteract constantly, while at the same time doing the work that guys do, except women have to do work on top of it to prove themselves.

    The discrimination barrier adds up like a wall made out of a billion grains of sand. It can be overcome, and the more women there are to serve as great role models for others, the more women will attempt to follow suit. But to deny that it’s there is just a cop-out from acknowledging that you’re part of the problem.

    The only reason that gender equality (much like true racial equality, etc.) will be where society will find itself eventually, some day far into the future, is because there are people fighting for it and making a stand.

    And I’d rather stand with them, than in the way.

  2. It should be noted that in the Drupal community some of the most well respected developers & designers are female, including the co-maintainer for the new version due for release shortly. There’s also an online user group to support the female developers (called “Drupalchix”) and they tend to always have extra meetings during the annual conventions to further aid the movement.

    On a side note, I used to participate in (Gaelic) football inter-school competitions in elementary school. Traditionally a “boys-only” game, though the regulations called for it to be both boys and girls, my school’s team’s best players were girls for several years running, even when they were some of the youngest on the team. On one particular year when our team was very successful and won many games against other schools, it was refreshing to see many onlookers do a double-take when they saw how good our team’s female players were, especially when they were responsible for our team’s record scores :)

  3. Our culture starts genderizing early. Go into a baby store, from clothes to crib sets they scream girl or boy. Maybe we should leave being a girl or boy as a Victorian idea it is and instead concentrate on growing the best people.

    Another insidious trend that I think a lot of people fall pray to is the race towards average in middle and high school. The average American will not be successful. Often kids see slacking as a way to fit in. I can see how girls could fall for this more as they are more likely to base happiness at that age on being accepted and feeling desirable. Not to say people do not transcend this issue (sure it happens all the time) but it does set a bad foundation for the rest of your life if you don’t.

    Just some thoughts. I am usually more impressed when I see successful females in technology. Discrimination, Conservative Gender Roles, lack of role models are very big issues. But I think overall we are trending in the right direction. Setting up successful careers for the next generation is a long term project.

    1. @JR Kincaid – you couldn’t get me out of my tutu when I was five, and yet I love geekery. On the other hand, I do identify with what Maria Klawe mentioned when she said boys dominate computer time. My brother, two years younger, set up a system where we alternated games. The problem was, he was better than me, so his games lasted longer. Over time, this compounded as he got better from more time on the nintendo. Eventually, I was barely playing while he would spin through level after level. I didn’t want anyone to take away my tutu, but as a parent, I hope I’ll step in to even things out a bit if there are obvious inequities. At the time, alternating seemed fair to me.

  4. I think that the issue is that most men have difficulty understanding the sexism that women still encounter.

    I went to an all girls school where I was repeatedly warned of such things and trained to act almost like a man in order to counter act such situations. I went on to study astrophysics, a largely male dominated course, and then went into finance prior to UX Design.

    Now there were plenty of women who were successful both in the university and also at my former employers. The unfortunate assumption however, especially at my finance job, was that if you were successful as a woman you had either slept your way to the top or stripped yourself of your feminity in order to be taken seriously by the men. In fact my male line manager, in one of my roles, told me that the only reason that I managed to get the job was because I was not married with kids and did not seem to have any plans to have some in the future. Had I been in a stable relationship at the time I would not have gotten the job because whilst I was by far the best candidate he couldn’t be bothered to find someone to cover me if I went on maternity leave. The irony of it is that he did have to find someone to replace me as I was promoted within 6 months to a higher role!

    I left that environment in order to create a different working environement at Border Crossing Media. I am still the only woman in the company ( well there are only 4 people!) however we see this as strength rather than a weakness. I have never felt within the company that I am treated any differently then the men and I give my opinions as an equally valued person not a different sex. That being said there are still some of our outsourcers that I need to get my colleague to deal with directly as they seem to not take me as seriously because I won’t understand?!?!?! We don’t work with them for long.

    I think it is a shame when you think of all the hard work that has been put in by women over the last 100 years in order to make it a fairer society for us and yet we still have to face these issues on a daily basis. I am unfortunately a firm believer that there is still a glass ceiling for women working in larger organisations but I hope that there will be some cracks appearing soon.

  5. Nicole, with the greatest respect, it appears that you’re saying that women should be invited to conferences — as opposed to men who can invite themselves — because women are less assertive or attention-seeking. Aren’t you reinforcing a gender stereotype yourself right there? These are not inherently male characteristics

    Yes, they are – they may not be genetic but they are heavily socialized by gender. There are many, many sociology studies that tell us women are LESS LIKELY to assign themselves authority – which is exactly what you need to do to put yourself forward to speak at a conference. The same studies tell us women are much MORE LIKELY to work cooperatively, which is exactly what you need to sit on a (yawn) panel.

    When you see no women speaking at a conference, it communicates a message: this conference is not for you. If you do not want to communicate that message, the metrics tell you that you need to actively invite women speakers. You can actively invite them to submit and then pull from that pool and that’s fine, but you need to extend the invitation or you just will not get the numbers.

    You don’t have to like that, but that doesn’t change it.

  6. Does this mean girls (100% even?) with the same SAT and high school GPA of guys should be given full scholarships to study CSCI at university?

    It would certainly increase enrollment and it seems along the same line of thought as Google’s initiative. I want more females in my CSCI classes, but I would definitely object to giving scholarships based on anything besides SAT and GPA (merit).

  7. This is a wonderful post and I very much appreciate you posting it. I’m working on a section of my dissertation about gender and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley (the whole dissertation isn’t about that, just one sub-section in a chapter) and the stats for company founders in the tech industry are even worse than the stats for engineers.

    Over and over again, I encountered blatant sexism and discrimination against women in Silicon Valley. It obviously didn’t manifest in “No Girls Allowed” signs, and I’ve worked in tech since the mid-1990s and only felt a few instances of obvious sexism against me. But often, I’ve found, when men imagine sexism, they imagine a man saying to a woman “you can’t get this job because you are a woman.” This is a failure of imagination; obviously, discrimination doesn’t usually happen this blatantly. To say that because there are no obvious barriers to women participating, that there is no experience of discrimination, reflects an awfully basic understanding of structural discrimination (e.g. bias against women, men of color, queer people, etc. is built into the basic structures of the industry).

    I’m happy that many men and women are taking up this cause and working to change it. I do understand why some people– again, men and women– get their hackles up against it, but it is really no skin of anyone’s nose if there are more women in engineering. I think it can only benefit everyone. In fact, there are plenty of studies showing that more diverse teams come up with better solutions and therefore better products.

  8. What do ‘code cowboys’ and ‘good developers’ have to do with gender, unless you are making a presumption that women are in some way inherently superior as developer s- which falls into the bigot trap? It makes no logical sense to bring it into the discussion and I’m confused as to why you did.

    Oh and your definition of ‘Good developer and ‘code cowboy’ are, for the most part, not mutually exclusive. A logician can note that he is three standard deviations higher on the IQ scale than his colleagues without being an ass about it. Your gross stereotypes only demean your argument more.

    You also use the term discrimination to suggest that there is some form of discrimination, but provide no evidence for such. You simply state that societal values shape how women think of themselves – which isn’t discrimination – it’s societal dogma, something entirely different and dealt with entirely differently. ie. Positive discrimination won’t help do anything!

    And remember: positive discrimination is still discrimination. Some guy of equal or maybe even better ability just lost his chance at an opportunity.

    And if it doesn’t change anything – since the problem is society, why the hell inject arbitrary unfairness? Karma? The males have it good so get some small measure of revenge?

    An illogical attitude like that doesn’t have a place in a logical field such as development.

  9. I don’t know about other groups, but my group of cs friends (male and female) don’t discriminate against women. You keep claiming that code cowboy attitude is the reason why women are discriminated. My experience is thay code cowboy-ism is not appreciated. There are many women in cs that’s great at what they do; I know women who are good that I don’t actually personally get along, and then there are those whom I’ve known from high school, and hang out with.

    I know someone who I’d consult if I wanted to build a robot; if I wanted to build a blog; and if I wanted to build a site to control a robot in Japanese. All of them are females, and they have my respect (and admiration esp for the Japanese master of robotics student)

    I’ve also met women in cs who didn’t cut the mustard, who are struggling academically, who I do question how they could go so far into the program based on what they have demonstrated.

    Did you consider that by assuming that all guys are discriminating against you, you read everything we do into that mould? We can collaborate with one another on a project, and still be critical on one another’s strength and weaknesses. I’ve been complemented, and been criticized, yet not felt that what’s in my pants has to do with it. Why should you?

    Your analysis gives me the impression that you act like the following: if I praise your work, it’s because you’re female. If I say you’re not quite there, because you’re female. You go through cs like any other person, and we discriminate. You go through cs with a scholarship, and we discriminate. Then the set of things that we do that won’t be taken as discrimination is empty.

  10. I have some agreements and some objections regarding this post.

    I agree that, as genders, women have equal intelligence to men.

    I’m not a “geek cowboy” and I find the attributes of that personality very childish and lame. These people get so engrossed in programming that they lose touch with reality. I program for a purpose. I get satisfaction from solving business problems, designing elegant systems and earning a fat paycheck.

    I disagree that “affirmative action” is the answer. You don’t deal with a problem like discrimination by accepting it as a reality and then trying to “compensate” for it. The compensation itself would then become a source of further discrimination and eventual backlash.

    The correct solution is time. As more and more women realize that they have genuine talent and seek to promote it, it will become harder and harder to ignore.

    Daniel Hale Williams eventually received the acclaim and admiration he deserved, despite the racist sentiments of those around him.

    The sexists will be proven wrong by individual female geniuses who’s actions speak for themselves. Not by anti-discrimination laws nor by any kind of “affirmative action”.

    1. @Jonathan Conway – Time doesn’t work when participation by women is *getting worse*. There are fewer (as a percentage) female computer-geeks now than there were in 1980. Check out some of the Maria Klawe stuff. Her talk about “Gender, Lies, and Video Games” is mind bending.

  11. During my CS undergrad I always felt weird and out of place as well. I generally didn’t find the same things funny as my fellow CS students/profs. I had different interests and hobbies. I viewed my non CS courses as a huge breath of fresh air both literally and figuratively (protip: try deodorant once in a while guys). Did I mention I’m a guy?

    Also please don’t get hung the whole video gaming angle. To me that represents a played out stereotype. Nevermind the fact that some(most?) of CS’ greatest minds were/are not gamers. You want a cool CS role model? Show me someone who is smart as a whip and can code with their eyes closed, tinkers around with their car/motorcycle, makes yummy experiments in the kitchen, eats real food, runs/climbs/surfs/bikes, and generally up for anything. Now *THAT* is a compelling role model – male or female.

  12. @Nicole — good, I’m glad we agree more than disagree. :)

    @Tobie — I think that’s a fantastic story and a great level-headed example for this discussion.

    @Suw — wow. rant much? is that type of insulting attack how you generally get across your ideas?

    I’m in the “Women could do it if they just had the right attitude brigade” and I make no apologies for it. Sorry if that’s so outrageously offensive to you. But the reason it’s so outrageous is because you completely missed the point.

    The point was not to blame women for the past discrimination. Clearly the sexists own that blame. The point was actually: if a woman of merit is currently not experiencing active discrimination, but she acts in such a way as to be so gun-shy about possible sexism toward her (or borrowed sexism others have) that she never puts herself out there, this is a detrimental attitude to have, and it further prolongs the effects of past discriminations. And btw, any guy that has a similar attitude is also missing the boat.

    You act as if every time a woman dev releases a project, a pack of blood-thirsty wolves descend on her and tear her apart. Like the tech industry is just so flagrantly unfriendly to women that there’s perfectly just cause for droves of them to stay far away. That’s just a ridiculous mis-characterization of how the tech conference world currently works.

    In reality, there are some inequalities in the tech industry, and that sucks. But there’s also a whole bunch of us that don’t care about gender at all and we’re missing out on great women devs and their awesome ideas because many of them have collectively taken the “silent majority” attitude on the side lines based either on a few of their own negative experiences or worse based only on the borrowed “pain” of other women.

    When you insist that the tech industry is still actively sexist or bigoted, you are actually forcing your own hateful stereotype upon the many who, like myself, wouldn’t care in the slightest the gender of a person who brings great ideas out.

    Many of us have tried to move to a more productive and fair tech community, and then we’re reminded that some, like you, are still trying to wallow in the hate. How is that helpful, either to women OR to men?

  13. Just to throw in my 2 cents here… I think a huge part of the equation is the fact that boys and girls are conditioned to think a certain way from a young age. Look at magazines and TV and ads and movies… girls are taught to be small, quiet, un-intrusive, to take up less space, to care about their own appearance and the appearance of others, to be “sensible” and not take risks, to put others above themselves, to enjoy dress-up games and to think math is hard. Likewise, boys are encouraged to be big, play loudly, take up a lot of space, to take risks, to think of themselves first, to enjoy violence and conflict, to aspire to be a rockstar, to swear, to excel at anything in academia, to smoke and drink. We’re brought up from a young age to try and fit into these stereotypes, or at least a “healthy” subset of them. How many times have you seen developers described as or describe themselves as “rockstar programmers”? Look on craigslist for developer jobs, you will see the question “are you a rockstar developer?” quite often. You will also see ads for programmer jobs which advertise that the company is laid back, often citing that they do things like play video games and use nerf guns in the office! If that isn’t proof, I don’t know what is.

  14. @Suw – and btw, you completely fabricated most of the other “crowds” that you address in your comment. You basically just ranted on about a bunch of negative stereotypes that you believe exist somewhere in the tech universe and attributed them to the commenters of this post, which is not only misrepresentative, but propogates the “hate” that you seem to stand in opposition to.

    For instance, if there really are idiots out there who actually say “Men and women are different, so can never be equal” (they certainly weren’t commenters on this post) you called attention to them far more than their otherwise marginalized opinions would have been heard.

    *Fact: men and women do have a lot of differences. That doesn’t make men and women less *equal*, it’ just makes us less *same*. I believe we absolutely can be equal without being identical. It’s actually a great thing to celebrate those differences, because such differences are responsible for most of the best parts of society. A homogenous “sameness” would not only be boring, but it’d be counter-productive.

  15. I’m waiting for the blog post that will start talking about men being under-represented in scrapbooking. It’s a crime, I tell ya. We need more men in scrapbooking. It must be intimidating for guy to walk into a scrapbooking session, what with all the women in the room that know how to use scissors and razor blades so well.

    I wonder how many times this question has been explored to no avail. I have a feeling this is one of those things that “just is”, like a dearth of male dental hygienists or female auto mechanics. I certainly don’t have answers. Just about everything said up above by everybody is true to some degree. Yes, some men are dicks. And yes, some women need to grow a thicker skin.

    And where can I go take Empathy 101? Also, does all that sideways fucking make one’s vag sore?

  16. Hello Stubbornella,

    I appreciated your article. I largely agree with it. There is only one thing I wanted to comment on:

    > Women are less likely to jump up and say “me! me! me!” They are far more
    > likely to wait to be asked to participate. We don’t need women to be different
    > than they are, we just need to invite them in a way that works. Hell, I spent 8
    > years coding CSS before I ever spoke about it to anyone. The first time I spoke
    > at a conference, John Allsopp contacted me to ask if I would do it. I never would
    > have submitted a proposal. You might say that I should have, but I would counter
    > that I shouldn’t need to act like a dude to get respect.

    I interpreted this section as implying the following things:

    A) many women will tend to prefer to be invited to participate rather than join a conversation
    without prompting

    B) joining a conversation without prompting, or submitting a proposal uninvited, is “acting like a dude”

    C) a woman shouldn’t have to act like a dude to get respect

    If I have misinterpreted your remarks, then my comments will be off-base. In that case, a clarification would help me.

    If I have interpreted your remarks correctly, then I cannot comment much on (A) and I agree with (C). (B) however is a point where I think I disagree, and I would like to say some things in encouragement for you to think about it more too.

    I think there are many ways to participate. It is really great to be invited to participate, and both men and women like to feel wanted and welcome. Some people are pretty boisterous and careless about inserting themselves in a conversation or situation. If I had to make baseless generalizations, I might suggest that women in current Western culture are less likely to participate without explicit inclusion while men are more likely to insert themselves into conversations in a way that seems rude or abrupt. I suppose I am commenting on (A) after all, and it would seem we are in a kind of agreement.

    However, there are ways of taking initiative and being assertive and self-confident that I would say are really important things for women to do, and that the women I admire the most do these things. I do not think it is the right emphasis to suggest that women would be “acting like dudes” by submitting talks and papers and joining the conversation on their own initiative. I think that that kind of confidence and desire to join in are sex-neutral and admirable in their own right. I would like to see women assert themselves more. I don’t think that this assertiveness need parade as masculinity — to my way of thinking, there are ways of being assertive that would not be stereotypically male.

    There is an aspect of (B) that I agree with in part. I imagine you might reply to me: Ed, what you are not understanding is that women are operating at a disadvantage with respect to men, and therefore, they are not as comfortable or welcome-feeling to take the kind of initiative you want to see them take. And it is for that reason that, for now, we should do our best to invite them to participate. Here I completely agree. I think that efforts to explicitly include women are very important. My point was only that we shouldn’t move from “women should be invited to participate” to “women taking initiative is ‘acting like a dude'” — I agree with the first and strongly disagree with the second.

    In fact, I would say that the *point* of inviting women to participate is to make it more likely that they will someday soon compete on a level playing field with men and feel perfectly free to take the initiative themselves to participate and never feel again as though being confident and assertive in a technical field means ‘acting like a dude.’

    I hope this advances the discussion. Thank you again for the article.

    1. @Eddie – watch my video from The Big Web Show. I was actually speaking from my own experience as a carpenter on a day my boss asked me if I could frame a wall in a kitchen. I said “I think so”. Which to me meant I was reasonably confident despite it being a new task. Then he asked Patty, the guy I was working with, who said “sure boss, no problem”. Patty was put in charge for the day and the moment the boss was out of earshot he turned to me and said “So, how do we do this?”

      I learned a valuable lesson. Rather than trying to be overconfident or overestimate my own abilities, I learned to interpret my bosses question as “Can you figure it out?” To which it was much easier to reply with a resounding “YES!”

  17. In the book Blink from M Gladwell the last chapters talks about this kind of problem for women in classical music.
    People said the same thing: women are not that good. Untill they held auditions behind a screen. Al of a sudden, women were selected.
    We need a similar technique in IT. (I don’t see any.)
    Only then more people will value women for what they are wurth.
    We need more diversity in IT teams. Adding women is a first good step. and an easy one.


  18. Offtopic: On the other hand I hate it when someone throws the “Men should do the first move” mantra at me. And it doesn’t relate only to sexuality, it might be a business move. Nowadays it’s not really clear who should wear the “strong” sex badge. It is ridiculous!

    Obviously it’s even deeper: I wasn’t sure how to translate “the strong sex” from my native language to English, so I used Google’s translator for that, the result was “male”…
    Try it out: “силният пол”

  19. Just an FYI. I know the dates aren’t firmed up yet but the jQuery Conference in London (likely Sept 13-14) and Boston (likely Oct 16-17) are now actively taking speaker submissions for talks http://blog.jquery.com/2010/07/20/jquery-conferences-2010-call-for-speakers/

    The jQuery team would love and encourage woman to give talks at our conferences. We just need more woman to submit talks.

    We were criticized for our Bay Area Conference in April because we didn’t have any woman speakers. The reason was because we didn’t have any submitted talks from woman.

    Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss your talk before submitting it.

    Ralph Whitbeck
    jQuery Developer Relations Team

  20. Amazing post.. I’ve heard quite a few sides on this argument, but I definitely agree with you. Can’t wait until more women get into the field. Although I think it’s a little disheartening to be around ‘ahem…. male nerds all day too.. May be they want to be seen as a professional and not as the ‘only’ female in the cube farm. Hopefully once women reach 25% things will really start to gain traction.

  21. Unfortunately, I think there’s a bigger picture at hand here. After all, look at all of the men who immediately want to jump on your experiences and opinions and devalue/dismiss them. If they haven’t experienced this, it must not be true, right? (There’s a term for this behavior called ‘mansplaining’ – when a man feels that he can and should define and speak to the experiences of a woman through his privileged vantage point, often times in a patronizing, put-her-in-her-place manner, rather than try to understand her perspective.)

    And, sadly, women will do this too. Why? Because – here’s the hard truth – society is growing a deeper and deeper hatred towards women. Think about it. Programming used to be practically the exclusive domain of women. There have been women scientists for centuries. But the anti-woman attitude has grown stronger, and it’s culturally accepted to be misogynistic. It’s also culturally accepted and expected for women to hate other women. Until these situations improve, nothing else will.

    In work situations, men will bond together and look out for one another, where women have a much harder time doing do (for various reasons). The thing is, none of this has to do with how good the work of the person is; it’s all about a cultural norm that rewards behaviors that hurt women. Yes, I have been subjected to discrimination and harassment because I’m a female. I am constantly told that I need to change to ‘adapt’ or else get out; regardless of how smart or talented I am. But what’s even more insulting is how often I’m told that my experiences aren’t valid or real, because I ‘must just be too sensitive’ or ‘[other female] doesn’t have this problem’ or whatever other deflecting, blame-the-victim tactic others want to use.

  22. Here via my delicious network, mostly to link JimBastard (and anyone else who doesn’t know) to the two majority-female, female-friendly Open Source projects I know of: Dreamwidth (repository here) and the Organization for Transformative Works (repository here.). I’m not sure they fit your size qualification, but I would be interested to know of any that are larger.

    I’m new to dev work, but I can affirm that the DW environment is awesome for women coders, both experienced and newbie. As someone just taking her first steps in Perl, I have female (and male, but predominantly female) mentors that I didn’t see in my CS courses ten years ago, whom I can ask the questions behind the logic of coding that would get me laughed out of the classroom by guys who’d come into Programming 101 with years of experience under their belts that I didn’t have the opportunity to acquire (and at the time, I felt like that was *my fault*).

    Awesome post, Nicole – thank you for writing it.

  23. This is one of the most reasonable things I’ve read on the topic, Nicole! I’m sorry that you’ve had so many bad experiences…

    But… I have to add (for everyone!): it’s important to separate “what people say” vs “how you feel.”

    Most of the traits you described as “cowboy coders,” or other behaviors displayed by misbehaving men, come from insecurity and fear. The people who talk big have the most to fear. It’s pure, simple compensation. That’s not about men, or male developers. It’s not about sexism. It’s just… human.

    Take that boss of yours who tried to push you towards management. Why? I have no clue about that specific situation, but I’ve seen it before — and, at the time, these were the reasons I observed:

    Maybe he (she?) was intimidated by you. Maybe he thought you had unusually good people skills. Maybe he was covering up for the fact that he actually had NFI what you did or were capable of, and felt that if you were middle management, at least his/her ass would be covered because it’d be harder to tell if you were doing your job or not. Maybe it was an issue of pay vs which department budget you’d get money from. Maybe he actually wanted to fire you but couldn’t, for fear of reprisals, and wanted to stick you in a career track where you’d eventually quit. Maybe it was all about irritating somebody else.

    In other words, the chances are good that it was all about him/her — and not about you. But of course, he dressed it up as being about you… and you took that to heart.

    Just like when a person sneers at us, or calls us a name, or treats us badly… we all assume it’s about us. We take it on face value. Then we try to figure out what it was ABOUT US that made HIM/HER DO THAT.

    But this is a complete and utter waste of energy and time. It’s almost never actually about us. Most people lie with their behavior constantly. It’s about them, not us. It’s not sexism, it’s fear. It’s not arrogance, it’s a desperate attempt to cover up cowardice.

    Just about everybody walking around on this planet is a used car salesman of misleading and mislabeled emotions because they are terrified, all of the time.

    That dude who said it was about your body, not your ideas? Just imagine what kind of sad, pathetic, lonely little creature a person has to be do let that sort of thing pass out of his lips. Realize it never, ever had anything to do with YOU. Then pity him, keep kicking ass, and never think of that sad sack again.

    Nothing is going to change in this industry by telling people to change, but once you get to the point where people’s childishness rolls off you, you will be unstoppable. People will have no choice but to admire you (even more!) and learn from your example.

    1. @Amy – Exactly! I think that is why it doesn’t bother me much. I don’t spend most of my time thinking about this stuff because I know it is NOT ABOUT ME. I won’t say these incidents didn’t sting a little at the time, or didn’t cause a little self doubt, but I’m NOT doubled over in agony. I love my work, love 99% of the people I have the privilege of working with, etc.

      I’m also glad you mentioned my manager because you are right, I don’t know why he did that. That is why I said “was it because I’m a woman?”. I honestly don’t know and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to draw conclusions because is is NOT ABOUT ME. OTOH, I heard he was investigated for allegations of sexual harassment after I left, but that had nothing to do with me, it was about his relationships with other female colleagues, which were apparently much stormier.

  24. @Pierre –

    The “simple fact” is that there _are_ no simple facts. If you can’t recognize that, you really aren’t contributing to the discussion.

    Also, if you did any research, you’d have discovered that there were, in fact, copyist nuns. Lots of them. Start with Londegonda of Bobadilla, continue through Diemud of Wessobrunn, and keep going until you discover how wrong you are about making sweeping statements about gender. I’ll even make it easier for you.


  25. Note: I’m not saying that kind of behavior is acceptable, but that if you take what people say/do at face value — without understanding that the root cause is all about them and not about you — you multiply the injury to yourself!

    Just like when I got horribly stuck on all the programming books, which were completely impenetrable to teenaged me, I decided that it wasn’t *me* who was too stupid to understand, but *the authors* who were incapable of teaching well… If I had taken the standard, default belief to heart, well, I wouldn’t be writing this. ;)

  26. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective. I am from a different industry (academia), but much of what you said applies to mine as well.

  27. Wow, wasn’t expecting to read THAT this morning! What a great article. I recently picked up a book from the early nineties about coming social problems with emerging technologies and they seem to have missed this one. But maybe that was to be expected… it was written by guys.

    With regards to Neil Bartletts comment… “Wouldn’t we get better results by severely punishing (and publicly shaming!) the offenders?”

    I think you are right in one way and wrong in another. The results may be better if people are shamed, but it is against the nature of most women to cause such a public fuss over something they have the ability to handle internally (by “handle” i’m *not* saying “accept”).

    So you have this classic Catch22 situation where the woman losses because she chooses to act with grace. What would really make the difference is men standing up for women publicly if they see people perving and groping other women, but maybe this stuff is too subtle for most guys to notice anyway.

    A difficult issue to figure out really.

    A question to women: if you another man catches someone treating you improperly, do you want them to call it out for being a douche, or what you rather we stayed out of it?

  28. correction on my previous reply to @Suw — several comments were not visible to me at the time of writing. i apologize for mis-construing your rant. but i remind you that an odd comment on this blog post is not representative of the industry as a whole.

    1. @Kyle Simpson @Suw – sorry, I’m a slow comment approver. I really want to keep the tone positive. And yeah, I was laughing out loud at @Suw’s comment – so funny, though the guy’s comments didn’t upset me individually, seeing them all listed out like that was hilarious.

  29. Nicole, this post will be referenced and quoted for years to come. Congratulations, and thank you for stepping up.

    Side note: It’s always disconcerting for me to scan the comments on a post about women in tech and see that the dissenters are all white men. I feel quite strongly that arguing against advocacy for underrepresented populations (in any industry) is an easy, safe way to abdicate responsibility in a complex conversation. So, guys, saying that it’s “not a problem” when you’re not the one struggling against obstacles the “problem” creates…well. It’s not a problem for you. Which is kinda part of the problem.

  30. I worded that last question badly. What I meant was…

    If a man catches another man treating a woman improperly, do you want that man to humiliate the other man for behaving improperly?

    Also… re: the cowboy qualities. Some men are driven to exhibit those behaviors by the demands of women at home and I would quip that they are not natural behaviors to as many men as a woman might assume.

  31. I’m arriving to the discussion too late to make a fairly minor point.. but I do think that this blog post misses the boat completely on her dismissal of the fastest growing occupations for women.

    “We are veterinary technicians not veterinarians, dental assistants not dentists, medical assistants not doctors. We like to believe we have evolved, but the data speaks to something else.”

    Utterly untrue. Women are not doctors? How on earth can you make a statement like this?

    According to this site:


    “Since 1982-83, the total number of women entering U.S. medical schools has increased every year (in
    fact, the annual increases reach back to 1969-1970). Women’s share of the matriculating class has
    likewise increased. Women went from less than a third (31.4%) of all matriculants in 1982-83 to a high
    of 49.6 percent in 2003-04. In 2007-08, women were 48.3 percent of all matriculants.”

    This data is a little old, I wouldn’t be surprised if women surpass 50% soon.

    This really isn’t a minor correction – keep in mind that there’s a pretty widespread point of view that women are avoiding computer science largely because the have found better jobs. Phil Greenspun’s “women in science” article is probably the best known rant on the subject.

    Women absolutely should not face discrimination in any field where they chose to work, but we should be prepared to at least consider the notion that women have decided that becoming a lawyer or doctor sounds better than becoming a programmer, and that they are more successful in making wise career decisions. Personally, I’m very skeptical that women are taking tame little jobs instead of becoming programmers. I think the women who are capable of doing computer science are instead discovering that they can get even better jobs (and I mean well paid, high powered jobs) in other fields.

  32. I think that there are plenty of women who see the point, but sadly most of them get told not to become programmers.

    I had a lecturer that used to tell girls that they’d never be successful because they weren’t men. A female friend of mine who was way smarter than me dropped out because of a meeting with him, and she wasn’t the only one. People think that it doesn’t happen, but it does. What really sucked is that he was an awesome coordinator for the boys – really likable. He helped me out a lot. I didn’t really talk to him after he torpedoed my friend’s studies though.

    The jdalton discourse really reads like “I try not let discrimination affect my thinking, and you saying that there is still a problem feels like an attack against me. Look at how not-sexist I am!” Well, congratulations for being better than some, but there’s still a problem, and this scholarship sounds like a great way to fix it.

  33. Also, great article :)

    Regarding convention invitiations – do commenters really find it so hard to understand that when you want to attract members of a group that has traditionally been excluded from something, you might need to invite them specifically before you’ll receive applicants?

  34. So, I just came back from speaking at an amazing albeit small conference in Florida called Front-End Design Conference. This year was different/special because the entire line-up of speakers was made up of women: http://frontenddesignconference.com/

    Now, what was something my fellow speakers remarked was that it was refreshing that it was mentioned it was all-female but not dwelled upon during the marketing of the conference. And yet, they actually had more attendees this year (and still male-dominated), just based on good word-of-mouth from their previous year and genuine interest in the speakers and topics outlined. What a concept. :-)

    I really enjoyed your breakdown of code-cowboy and good dev. I wrote an article Women in Tech: Asking the Wrong Questions, and in the comments my friend, who was raised by scientist father, thrown into “women in science” groups since childhood, and has a Comp Sci degree… completely abandoned code to pursue law instead. Of course, many reasons attributed to that, but she remarked that part of it was because Comp Sci did not emphasize enough “big picture” reasons to code. As in, she didn’t see how she was contributing to anything. I’m generalizing here (emphasis: GENERALIZING for those nitpickers), but women wants to have more reasons to pursue code beyond the just joy of tinkering in code. When tech stuff is being marketed to women, there definitely needs to be more angles to consider and ignoring it is foolhardy.

  35. That “20 Fastest-Growing etc” list is biased. There are more new women doctors than men since more than a decade.

  36. The code cowboy you describe is just a bad developer from my point of you, I don’t see why anyone would want someone like this in its team. I am not quite sure I agree with you on everything that is said here.

    I worked with some female front-end developer, and I had no different working relationship that with a male front-end developer. I never saw a female being treated differently either .

    Maybe it is also regional bound, I mean, you are in a geek environment, expect geek joke.

    That being said, I never went to a conference, or tried to, you know, be more successful than just being a front-end developer working in a company, maybe it is different..

  37. Thanks for your post Nicole. I’m interested in the mechanisms we have to deal with sexism and harassment. @F1LT3R alluded to the only one I feel development communities can count on across the board: confrontation. For some folks, confrontation carries a lot of heavy baggage. Perhaps it’s not their strength or their habit or they don’t have the social capital (in a male-dominated community) to do this effectively.

    Here’s how I try to work it: Listen to people who have grievances. Denying someone’s grievance is the first step off the cliff! The “confrontation” strategy has to be tuned to the context and the individuals: their needs, their attitudes, their relationships with other folks in a community.

    Being an ally is hard work. You’ve got to deal with all people honestly. Be empathetic even when you think someone’s done wrong. (An aggrieved person shouldn’t be asked to have this empathy or express it. They’ve enough trouble, and they need support not demands.) Don’t make one person pay for another person’s inexcusably bad behavior.

    Perhaps confrontation isn’t the only thing we have, and maybe there are nuances and tactics that work well and others that don’t. I’m all ears!

  38. The correct solution is time. As more and more women realize that they have genuine talent and seek to promote it, it will become harder and harder to ignore.

    I recommend studying the history of the Civil Rights movement and what led up to it. For years the argument was “well, time will fix it, so those blacks shouldn’t be so uppity about it.” The Brown decision was 57 years after Plessy. Would that be long enough for you? 60 years?

    Heck, people then argued — and still do now — that Brown happened too fast. Perhaps you’ve heard the ranting about “judicial activists.” But it is different to look back to the Civil Rights Movement and see it as a fait accompli vs. looking forward and seeing the improvements made but knowing they’re not good enough.

    It’s easy, I think, to sit here and feel comfortable about where we are because compared to Back Then it’s “better” than it was. Yeah, there are barely any African-Americans in the US tech world, but hell, 60 years ago they were still being lynched! Yeah, Americans denigrate Indian coders every chance they get, but hey, 60 years ago they were still living in huts!

    Affirmative action isn’t the best solution, and it can be a crude solution (though not as bad as the quotas we had pre-Bakke). But it’s certainly better than time. Time leads to a slow incrementalism that only breeds more resentment between the sexes, and ultimately it continues the concentration of power among the white men that do 90% of the coding in the western world.

    When you insist that the tech industry is still actively sexist or bigoted, you are actually forcing your own hateful stereotype upon the many who, like myself, wouldn’t care in the slightest the gender of a person who brings great ideas out.

    You know, I hear this all the time from other white men, and it’s a really silly line of thinking. For example, I’m an American. Someone says bad things about the US, I do feel defensive, I mean, after all, I’m not one of Those People you criticize, so how DARE you say I am that. But then I realize there’s a distinction between the US as Nation and me as American. There are things I can do to improve the country I live in — vote, volunteer, campaign for issues I think are important — but I am not the nation. I am an individual. And there are certainly problems with my nation, but end of the day I can only do what I can do to improve this place.

    See, there’s the difference. The Tech Industry is actively sexist. I’ve seen it myself. Hell, I’ve probably done it. But I do what I can to try and fight against it. In the web class I taught last spring, I brought in two guest speakers who were women in the tech industry, both whip-smart in their areas of expertise, both great speakers, but both women. And the response from the women in the class was very positive — and hell, the men reported learning stuff from their talks that had nothing to do with staring at their boobs.

    That’s one thing I’ve done. That and actively look for women who know what they’re doing and can speak about it and encourage them to get their asses in front of the crowd. So, see, obviously I don’t resemble the “stereotype.” But at the same time, I know what Nicole is saying, I know it to be correct. I don’t get offended by it. I take it as a reminder to keep trying to do the right thing and push for change.

    And that’s how you — and all us sensitive white men who love women in tech and would never suggest women are delicate creatures that would break should they attempt to write a JavaScript function — should take that. Yeah, you’re doing the right thing, because obviously it’s not you. At the same time, it’s a reminder to keep doing it, to keep self-policing for the dumb things you still will say and do, and to remind others why this is important. Stop getting offended and start taking action.

    Seriously, guys, stop getting so offended. Taking offense is the new Last Refuge Of The Coward.

  39. Thanks for this article! I think it was well articulated and very enlightening.

    As a woman who worked in the video game industry, I find my personal experience a little different than the experience you listed here. As perplexing as it is, I found my male co-workers to be much more encouraging and helpful than my female co-workers. All of the female co-workers had ranks above me, but I constantly felt pressure from them that I wasn’t doing my job well enough… whereas I never got that from my male co-workers.

    I’ve never been sure why this is. I personally think that they had a hard time “making it” in their male dominated industry and they wanted all the women that they came into contact with to be absolutely above reproach. I think that they had to deal with proving that they deserved to be there among all the men, so they didn’t want anyone coming in and possibly proving that it might not be true. Not to say that I didn’t deserve to be there, but I was new to the industry so I didn’t come in with as much knowledge as others who had previously worked in it.

    I found that the men were much more willing to teach me and work with me. They also were the only ones who ever gave me positive feedback and did it often. I never got any positive feedback from my female boss or any of the women that I worked with. My male bosses were always excited to have the extra help that I provided and were honestly appreciative of the work that I did.

    My female boss constantly encouraged me to approach all situations more like a man would do instead of how I naturally felt worked best for me. I never got as good of response if I tried to approach a situation “more masculine” than I really felt. I find that when women try this, they are labeled a “bitch” and people don’t want to work with them as much (which was the case with my female boss). It’s not fair that man can approach things directly and more harshly than women can and not be labeled as a “bitch” but I find that it’s been the case every where I’ve worked. The least harsh and direct I am, the better that I’m received and the work goes more smoothly.

    All that being said, I decided to leave the industry and switch into something else. Not for the reasons listed above, but because I decided that I wanted a life. Everyone worked crazy hours (12 hr days 6 days a week) and I wanted a better life balance than that. I want to eventually have kids and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spend the time with them that they needed if I stayed in the industry. I saw all the fathers working there and could tell how torn up inside they were not seeing their families and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do that. I just think that the men there were more willing to do that to their families than I was (and perhaps more than women in general are).

    Just my experience and why I left the gaming industry.

  40. One thing I found interesting about this article is how it focuses on women in technology, even if the information about women in other fields such as medicine and science was incorrect. Within the broader technology umbrella, the “agile” conferences seem to have a higher proportion of women speakers than other conferences. Check out the listing of presenters, there are a lot of women there.


    Shelley Powers had a spirited discussion a while back (like, say the last 10 years or so).


    So the question I always ask is: What is the agile community, which is comprised of men who are in technology, doing differently that attracts a higher percentage of women than other technology communities? Can we take whatever they are doing and spread it to workplaces and colleges?

    As an aside, Microsoft conferences always have a higher percentage of female speakers than other technology conferences. Sometimes there are more female speakers at MS conferences than there are female attendees!

  41. Thanks for such an articulate and thoughtful post on a difficult topic. It surprises and confounds me that so many decades after the advent of feminism we still need to be educating people on these matters. Nice job, and keep it up.

    As a conference organizer, I can say it’s hard to have gender balance in a program when there isn’t gender balance in the community overall. But that statement can be seen as an excuse or a challenge. I do think that many great presentations are missed because no outreach is done and CFPs aren’t posted to email lists for women (or other minorities) in tech. I’m lucky that my conference program is curated and I have to invite everyone to speak, so inviting women is just like inviting anyone else. The results this year have been gratifying to me. Look at our speaker lineup and see for yourself: http://gogaruco.com/speakers.html I hope seeing more women speakers will result in more women at the conference, and in the Ruby developer community.

  42. It’s tiring, I often report to people who don’t understand what I’m doing, and I don’t lay down a line of BS. I am often considered expendable, and laid off when budgets need to be balanced. Is it because I am female? or is it because in general people think web producers are expendable, I’ll never be able to separate those two things.

    But I know my creative talents, technical abilities and project enthusiasm are a total package that is not easy to find in one person, and am frustrated by the constant battle to justify my paycheck over the last decade. I never feel like anyone fights to keep me on the team or in the company, even when I’m delivering good projects.

    Perhaps it’s the corporate environment that I don’t fit into, I never really though about larger issues of gender but I did tend to be the only woman on the team, if I had one. (that said, I have also worked with some seriously lovely, respectful, hard working teammates)

    Tired of it, exploring my options.

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